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The state Livestock Department was able to save $450,000 by completing its plan for Montana to regain its brucellosis-free status faster and cheaper than expected, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Thursday.

That $450,000 will return to the state general fund, where a once-large projected surplus has shrunk during this recession, according to both executive and legislative estimates.

“So not only did we cut back on the time it took to get our brucellosis-free status back, which is very important to the cattle operators of Montana, (but) we managed to do it for less money than had been anticipated,” Schweitzer said.

Montana had estimated its schedule and cost for its brucellosis action plan based on Wyoming and Idaho’s experiences, Schweitzer said, but was able to complete the job faster and cheaper than anticipated.

Brucellosis is a disease that causes pregnant cattle to abort.

Schweitzer praised the leadership of Christian Mackay, the department’s executive officer, and Martin Zaluski, the state veterinarian.

The first case of brucellosis in Montana cattle was detected in May 2007, with another one confirmed the next month, Mackay said. Montana officially lost its brucellosis-free status in September 2008.

The 2009 Legislature appropriated $2.3 million for the department’s action plan for Montana to regain its brucellosis-free status. It involved tests on many herds on many ranches in seven-county area near Yellowstone National Park. Montana regained its brucellosis-free status in July 2009, he said.

Mackay said the agency was able to complete its plan faster than expected and turn back $450,000 for several reasons. They included good cooperation from cattle producers and not as many herds were at high risk as anticipated, which meant less testing. As a result, he said the department was able to use one fewer veterinarian to do testing than anticipated.

Montana regained its brucellosis-free status back five months sooner than the department had expected, he said. Finally, Mackay said the Montana Diagnostic Veterinary Laboratory in Bozeman, which is part of the department, was able to handle the surge in tests with its existing staff and “turned those tests over in rapid order with existing resources and existing personnel,” he said.

This was the latest of a number of budget savings that Schweitzer has announced in recent weeks.

Because of a rapidly-shrinking projected surplus in the state general fund as tax collections have dropped, Schweitzer has the ability to cut budgets of certain state programs by up to 10 percent. He has asked agencies how they would cut certain programs by up to 5 percent, which would amount to $47 million in savings if Schweitzer approves them all next month.

When legislators adjourned in April 2009, they left a projected general-fund surplus of $282.4 million as of mid-2011. Schweitzer’s budget director, David Ewer, estimated late last month the surplus had shrunk to $5.6 million by mid-2011, while Terry Johnson, the Legislature’s chief revenue forecaster, this week projected a $62.5 million general-fund deficit by that date.


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